PORTLAND, Ore — Around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, near Southeast Division and 11th Avenue, a 911 call came in about a 23-year-old woman in cardiac arrest.
Katie Anders and her sister Rachel Kennedy were walking out of a restaurant on Division when they noticed the woman who needed help. Rachel is a registered nurse, so she sprang into action.
“I knew she was dying, so I tried to do a little mouth to mouth, I couldn't get any air in, so I tried compressions and she didn't fight me, so I knew she was, first, you know, I checked for a pulse and couldn't find one, I started compressions and my sister called 911,” Kennedy explained.
A police officer also arrived and helped with CPR.
Two minutes after the 911 call, a two-person crew from Fire Station 23 got there. But instead of taking over, firefighters asked the officer to keep doing CPR, so they could start advanced life-saving measures.
A two-person crew can only do basic life support, like CPR and shocking a person with a defibrillator. It takes four people to do both of those things, plus start an IV and get a breathing tube in, which are also crucial when it comes to saving a life.
In this case, Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau officials said they were lucky there were other people there who knew how to do hands-only CPR. The 23-year-old woman did have a pulse when she was taken to the hospital, but this call highlights a bigger issue: staffing.
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Kyle MacLowry, a vice president with the Portland Firefighters Association, said this call shows why the neighborhood needs more firefighters at Fire Station 23.
“We can't rely on luck or hope,” MacLowry explained. “Hope is not a strategy. We need to be appropriately staffed, so when these calls come in, which are going to keep coming in to be able to respond correctly and appropriately.”
MacLowry said this level of staffing should be concerning not only for situations where someone is in cardiac arrest, but for fire calls also.
“To be a professional firefighter in the city of Portland, the 25th largest city in this nation and to arrive on scene and have to ask help from somebody who happens to be there, that's an unacceptable model of doing business from my standpoint,” MacLowry said.
Fire Station 23 closed in July 2010 because of budget cuts. It then reopened in November 2017, following a year when the neighborhood grew rapidly and there were 1,333 incidents in the area. When it reopened, it was equipped with a two-person crew and rescue vehicle, but on some days they are able to pull extra staff.
As of July 11, the president of the Portland Firefighters’ Association said the new city budget made this two-person crew permanent at station 23. Portland Fire can send backup units to help the two person team, but depending on what is going on, it could take several minutes for them to arrive.
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Fire & Rescue, said that is why she voted against the budget.
“Each fire station is supposed to have a four-person team and so the fact that they only have two is very troubling for me as the fire commissioner,” Hardesty explained. “I want all the stations to be as quick and efficient as possible in providing services to the community.”
Alan Ferschweiler, the president of the Portland Firefighters’ Association, said the budget is a step in the wrong direction, saying the neighborhood deserves a four-person crew that can do cardiac calls.
In Saturday's case, the two-person crew got there within three minutes, but again, could only do basic life support. Their backup unit with a four-person crew got there in six minutes. At six minutes, firefighters explained, they may not be able to resuscitate someone.
“I will be advocating once again because quite frankly, we don't always need the full menu of what we have at 911, but every fire station should have a minimum level of staffing,” Hardesty said.
Hardesty said she plans to push for more staffing for the fire department again in the fall. KGW also reached out to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Office and other city commissioners for comment, but has not heard back.
Straight Talk: Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty
Fire bureau officials said Saturday’s incident is also a great reminder of why it is so important for people to learn hands-only CPR, which if administered in the first few minutes, can increase someone’s chance of survival. For every minute that passes without CPR, the chance of survival decreases by 10%.
If you know how to do CPR, Portland Fire asks that you download the PulsePoint App, which can alert you to a nearby cardiac arrest at the same time as paramedics and tell you where the closest AED is located.
The Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau will be at all remaining Sunday Parkways to teach hands only CPR. Click here for dates and locations of the Sunday Parkways events, hosted by Portland Bureau of Transportation.